Faith only and salvation. It works.

Because of comments made by some readers who understandably thought of our initial salvation, I thought I would explain how I think James’ principle of  ‘faith must have works’ would fit. Remember though, James didn’t write this to speak of our initial salvation but I think we can make application.

After reading James 2:14-26, one is led to the conclusion that “faith only” does not save. In other words, “faith” by itself,  is as dead as a body without the spirit. The conclusion then would seem to be that works are necessary for our salvation. Yet a good study of Paul, in Romans, would reveal that works do not save either. (Though it might be better to say ‘works do not earn salvation.”)

So how can I stand up and say I believe in faith only? The key to this statement is in the definition of faith. This is the crux of the problem and causes many many problems in the mind of believers. If used the way those mentioned in Hebrews 11 used it, I don’t think I would have a problem saying I am saved by my faith alone.

However, if faith is used the way so many use it today, then I would line up with James and say ‘Faith only’ will not save. This is because many use it in just the way James says we should not use it.  This is not as surprising as it is distressing. Language changes and I think it is one of the reasons why God, in His wisdom, gave us the New Testament in a dead language.  

Most know that, while the Greek language is still alive today, the Greek of the New Testament hasn’t been spoken or used in 2000 years (give or take) so “faith”, as used then, should be the way we use faith today OR the concept should be found in a modern word.

“Quicken” is a word used in the Old King James Bible. Today, if someone talks about Quicken we think of Tax software but since English has changed, today,  “make alive” is a better translation than “quicken” would be.  Faith is like that.  However, when the word itself is still used and the meaning has changed, it creates problems, confusion and misunderstanding.

I remember the first time I was asked if I was “gay”. (Yes, I know, I am dating myself.) This was in the 70’s and I was in Jr. High. To me, at that time, ‘gay’ meant happy. (“Gay”wasn’t a word used a lot to begin with but I knew what it meant, just not how they were using it.) Teasing of Jr. High boys aside, the word was just beginning to change and no one uses the word to mean “happy” today.

James is the only writer that took time to pull “faith” apart into separate components and separate the belief in something from the actions that result from that belief.  While he condemns this thought process, this is exactly how it is used today.  This is why if I say that I believe in ‘faith only’ an impression is left that I don’t mean.

So in relation to Salvation, does faith only save?

If I were to suggest (and I do) that a person be baptized for the remission of sins to be saved, I will quickly be accused of believing in water salvation  or baptismal regeneration. Yet, If I suggest (and I do) that person needs to repent or confess Christ, people nod in agreement. What is the difference?

All three are actions. All three are works. And even more to the point, NONE of the three earn your salvation. They do, however, like Abraham, complete our faith. (2:22) Take any or all three of them and separate them from faith, will the actions save? No. Take Faith and separate them from the actions, will the faith save?  Only “yes” or “no” will answer the question. Which is it?

Because so many are against a works based salvation, anything that sounds like earning your salvation is considered anathema and I agree, earning your salvation cannot be done.  Even faith does not earn it but who would suggest that without faith you can be saved? (Heb 11:6 ‘without faith it is impossible to please Him…)  But is it works based salvation to preach what Jesus told the apostles to preach? Is it works based to say “repent” or “confess” or “be baptized”?

Teaching must be done on this subject. Let me speak to those who are teachers for a moment. Which may be appropriate since James is going to talk about teachers in chapter 3. If faith comes by hearing the word of God (Romans 10:17), what word of God are you teaching to those you preach to? If you tell a person about the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, do you do it the way it is practiced today or the way the Apostles practiced it in Acts?  

Somewhere, it has become popular to add the “sinner’s prayer”. When I read the original commission by Jesus to the disciples, I don’t see it. When I read the book of Acts and listen to the sermons of the Apostles, I don’t see it. When I read the epistles and see Paul talk about when your sins were forgiven, I don’t see it referenced.

Would someone who reads this blog, please point me to the sinner’s prayer in the Bible?

I would suggest that anyone who preaches the Gospel of Jesus Christ will do it the way Peter did it. (cf Acts 2) Because that is what Jesus told them to do. In this way, those that respond in faith to the Gospel will respond the way people did in the book of Acts.  

If it is going to be salvation by faith, I would rather it be faith in the words of Christ, than faith in the modern practices of today.


About Steven Sarff

If I were to offer any one piece of advice to one wishing to serve God, it would be to put Hebrews 11:6 and Acts 17:11 into action and let God guide you to grow in the grace and knowledge of His Son Jesus Christ.

Posted on December 17, 2011, in Christianity, Faith, salvation and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. “If I were to suggest (and I do) that a person be baptized for the remission of sins to be saved, I will quickly be accused of believing in water salvation or baptismal regeneration. Yet, If I suggest (and I do) that person needs to repent or confess Christ, people nod in agreement. What is the difference?

    All three are actions. All three are works. And even more to the point, NONE of the three earn your salvation.”

    Excellent statement and well put Steven. That is how I have posed the quesiton many times in my discussions with others. Sadly, when the clear answer is seen the discussion gets ended. James is a powerful book if we only have open ears/hearts to hear what is being said in connection with the rest of the NT when it comes to our faith and living it out as the rest of his letter will soon take on.

  2. This is an excellent post. So many are falsely led to believe that all they have to do is say a prayer that man made up and bippity-boppity-boo, they’re saved! These are the folks who don’t take the time to read and study God’s word. Man wants to change the word of God to fit their lifestyle. How arrogant and foolish! Read the Bible, know it, be able to put one’s teaching against it to verify that what they are teaching is true! Great post.


    Is the term, unsaved believer, an oxymoron, or a statement of fact? A few examples are warranted to shed some light on the question.

    UNSAVED BELIEVERS: John 12:42 Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue;

    Can faith not confessed save anyone?

    UNSAVED BELIEVER: Luke 18:18-23 A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”……..22 When Jesus heard this He said to him, “One thing you still lack; sell all that you possess and distribute it to the poor, and you shall have treasure in heaven; come and follow Me. 23 But when he heard these things, he became sad, for he was extremely rich.

    The ruler wanted to omit the term of pardon he did not like. Can those of us, living under the new covenant, omit the terms of pardon we do not like and still be saved?

    UNSAVED BELIEVERS: James 2:18-19 But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” 19 You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.

    Demons believe but, would anyone assert that demons are saved?

    UNSAVED BELIEVERS: Are believers who deny that repentance or immersion in water are essential to the remission of sins, saved? (Acts 2:38)

    John 3:5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

    Can you ignore the requirements of Jesus and still be saved?

    Mark 16:16 He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved…

    If men practice a water-less salvation, will that save them?


    (All Scripture quotes from: NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE)


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